I’ve probably watched a dozen episodes of Shark Tank, which I just realize has been on for 11 seasons. That’s crazy. It’s not on my must-see list and I dislike how mean some of the panelists are to the entrepreneurs. Kevin O’Leary is a total jerk, but Robert Herjavec is kind and so is Barbara Corcoran. I like her gentle but firm approach, and she seems to develop strong relationships with the business owners she invests in. Barbara, 70, is a multi-millionaire, having sold her real estate firm for $66 million in 2001. She of course has multiple employees and assistants who help manage her business. Her bookkeeper got scammed into wiring almost $400,000 as payment for a fake invoice. The scammer had duped her assistant’s email address, changing just one letter. By the time the bookkeeper realized her mistake the money was gone.
The incident unfolded last week when Barbara’s bookkeeper received an email about an invoice “approving the payment for a real estate renovation,” Corcoran tells PEOPLE.
“I lost the $388,700 as a result of a fake email chain sent to my company,” Corcoran says. “It was an invoice supposedly sent by my assistant to my bookkeeper approving the payment for a real estate renovation. There was no reason to be suspicious as I invest in a lot of real estate.”
The bookkeeper continued to communicate with whom she thought was Corcoran’s assistant and went ahead with the wire payment on Tuesday.
The error wasn’t noticed until the bookkeeper sent a follow up to Corcoran’s assistant’s actual address, informing her of what she had just done. That’s when the company became aware of the scam and the assistant noticed the hacker had altered her email.
“The money was wired to the scammer yesterday and my bookkeeper copied my assistant, who was shocked to see her name on the correspondence. The detail that no one caught was that my assistant’s email address was misspelled by one letter, making it the fake email address set up by the scammers,” Corcoran explains.
However, it was too late as $388,700.11 was already gone from the account.
“The scammer disappeared and I’m told that it’s a common practice, and I won’t be getting the money back,” Corcoran says.
Despite the dramatic loss, Corcoran is keeping a positive attitude.
“I was upset at first, but then remembered it was only money,” Corcoran tells PEOPLE.
Barbara did an interview via Skype with Good Morning America and she very graciously defended her bookkeeper, saying that “it’s something I would have fallen for if I had seen the emails.” She sounded upbeat and ok about everything, which I guess is easy to do when you have tens of millions in the bank. The scammer (I don’t like to use the word “hacker” as it’s not really accurate) asked for the money to be wired to a German company using an Asian bank account. While investigators have been able to trace the IP (numerical computer address) of the computer to a Chinese address, it is unlikely Barbara will get the money back.
My dad was contacted by a scammer when he was selling his classic car. He sent me the emails, which had detailed personal stories meant to build rapport I guess. I told him not to respond and just googled some of the phrases in the email, which alerted us to the scam. A similar thing happened to me years ago when I was looking for a rental home. The property seemed too good to be true, it was clear English wasn’t their first language which is understandable, but when the person asked my social security number I knew it was a scam. The scam run on Barbara’s company sounds more sophisticated in that they knew her business and assistant’s email and were persistent and believable.
One of the more common online scams is that a check will be sent as payment but it will be greater than the amount of the purchase. The con artists will then ask for some of the money to be wired back. It may even look like the money is in the account before the check bounces.
Update: Barbara got the money back! The German bank which was being used to transfer the money to Asia was able to freeze the transfer and return the funds to Barbara’s bank.
This is cute:
Photos credit: WENN and via Instagram
Is there insurance that covers this kind of scam?
Cyber insurance may cover it. But not everyone has it.
Doubt it as premiums would be prohibitively high.
Always check senders’ names & addresses very carefully. I get lots of phishing/scam emails from fakes for Apple, Apple pay, eBay, Chase, & Bank of America. I don’t have any Chase or Apple accounts. Sometimes, it’s simply an extra dot in the business name to separate words or a numeral or a single letter followed by a dot (a.BankofAmerica.com) before the business name.
Last week I got 2 fakes from Facebook with directions to reset my contact info, password, & security questions to avoid getting my home page deleted. It was nearly convincing. Hacked accounts give access to all our friends & their info too.
I had the exact same thing years ago when I was looking for a rental. Too good to be true, the person said they were this Christian missionary looking to rent out their home while they were gone. My husband finally drove by it and could tell it was vacant which is not what they said and we found it on Zillow actually for sale. So these scammers would find empty homes that were either foreclosed or for sale.
We recently bought a house and heard horror stories about scammers creating false requests to transfer funds during a closing and people loosing all of their down payment money. During our close I called every bank and closing person and triple checked numbers personally before doing any wiring, but I was still scared someone was fake in there and I’d lose it.
I work in the mortgage industry and this does happen. We have to be very careful how we get our wiring instructions. It happened in my office a few years ago but thank goodness our closers caught it. One of the processors got fake wiring instructions sent to her Unknowingly.
When we bought our house in 2018 our realtor and the office where we did the closing were very, very specific about their instructions for how to wire the down payment, how proceeds from the sale of our old house would be funded, and to verify any information we received with them directly before acting. Apparently, the scammers convince people that if they don’t wire the money RIGHT NOW they’ll lose the house, and people panic and follow fraudulent wiring instructions. I can’t imagine how upsetting it would be to have that money (and the house) pulled out from under you last minute like that.
Actually, they are hackers. Cyber criminals hack into your email account to monitor your activity to determine what would pass as normal in order to engage in this illegal activity. That’s why these emails are so convincing. I’m an attorney in the real estate industry, and cyber crime is a massive issue for brokerages, agents, title companies, and real estate attorneys.
We are in the process of listing our home and relocating to another state. Our realtor is well known in our community and warned us when we met of the high scam rate with real estate transactions. Every email from him contains a warning on transferring funds. We will not transfer funds and have chosen to hand deliver. Pleased Barbara made this public. I’m adding Celebitchy’s post to my public Neighborhood Watch site.
I’m glad she made this public too, it’s a great warning for others, and proof that even big time companies get scammed. I’m glad she’s ok about it and not blaming anyone.
We get a ton of scam emails here at work, and the other day I got what seemed like a text message scam, from someone I know asking to confirm I received their text, but it wasn’t their number, and it said they were “in a conference”. This person is retired, so…no conferences.
This nearly happened at our company, except the wire transfer requests were coming from one of our vendors and their email had actually gotten hacked. Luckily our IT people were alerted and intercepted the emails before the transfer was done and contacted our vendor. Our vendor had NO idea and evidently hundreds of these emails were sent out to people in their contact lists, they had to change their domain and email addresses and everything.
Same thing happened to my BIL while selling his car. The “buyer” was from France, which explained his broken spanish, and was willing to send over his ID in exchange for my BIL’s info as “goodwill”. It was abviously a scam and we reported his account and contacted the frenchman whose name and ID he was using.
Someone tried to get me through my Amazon account. Someone I know set up a donation account for a mutual person we know with cancer. So I made my donation and maybe a half hour later a email came over saying I needed to ‘confirm’ my donation. So I contacted there person who set it and they said everything was good so I checked the email address and they were not even trying. I reported it for phishing and hope that person who did it burns in hell.